Housing Stability Pledge for landlords aims to prevent evictions
Building on his commitment to keep Bostonians stably housed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the Housing Stability Pledge for landlords, which aims to prevent evictions from occurring after the expiration of the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on October 17. The pledge asks landlords to honor the federal eviction moratorium; create payment plans with and for tenants, help connect tenants with resources; and work with the relevant voucher administrator for tenants with housing vouchers. This pledge will aid tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to loss of income during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Twenty-five landlords have already signed the pledge, including the WinnCompanies, Maloney Properties, the Peabody Properties, Trinity Financial, and the Beacon Communities.
"Stable housing is the foundation of economic security for all residents in Boston, and a basic human right," said Mayor Walsh. "By signing this pledge, landlords will agree to work with their tenants to avoid evictions, and I'm grateful to the 25 landlords who have already given their support to this crucial work. I encourage all landlords to join us in providing a helping hand for residents and families who need it most, and continuing our commitment to guiding Boston through this difficult time together."
"Housing stability is critical to public health in the midst of this pandemic and it has always been a mission of WinnCompanies," said Gilbert Winn, CEO of WinnCompanies. "This pledge is an appropriate, important step to help households struggling at a time of severe economic disruption and uncertainty. The pledge also acknowledges the need for reasonable and fair expectations for both owners and tenants. We thank Mayor Walsh for his leadership on this issue."
The Housing Stability Pledge asks that landlords commit to preserving as many tenancies as possible, by honoring the declaration issued by the federal moratorium that protects tenants who are behind in their rent payments from being evicted until December 31, 2020. This moratorium was issued as a matter of public health, and is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The moratorium covers tenants who owe rent, but have not engaged in nuisance or criminal behavior. Signing the declaration does not relieve tenants from the obligation to pay rent.
Property owners signing the pledge promise to engage with tenants, learn about their specific situation, and create a payment plan that works for them. The pledge asks that they use good faith efforts to create and enter into payment plans that are affordable to, and work for, both the tenant and the landlord. It further asks that landlords ensure that tenants can afford the repayment plan and to consider plans that avoid lump sum repayments at the end of the deferral period. The pledge also asks landlords to permit renters with a missed payment to amortize the repayment over time and to strongly consider providing relief from rent-related late fees.
In cases where a repayment plan is unrealistic, landlords are asked to work with renters to secure government or philanthropic funded rental assistance, such as DHCD RAFT/ERMA, or the City of Boston Rental Relief Fund. Landlords should assist renters in accessing these resources and provide any needed documentation in a timely manner. Whenever possible, repayment plans and rental assistance resources should be used in lieu of legal eviction proceedings. In addition to assisting renters in securing rental assistance, the pledge asks that landlord work with the City to advocate for additional State and Federal resources that can be used for rental relief and arrearages.
If a voucher holding family is falling behind on their rent, landlords will work with their tenants and encourage them to contact their caseworker at the Boston Housing Authority, Metro Boston Housing or the relevant voucher administrator to make the necessary rent adjustments as soon as possible. Landlords will remind residents with a Section 8 subsidy that they can have their share of rent adjusted if family income decreases.
"At Madison Park Development Corporation, we build healthy communities. As a leading developer of affordable housing, signing on to this pledge is acknowledging the work we already are doing, but it sends an important message about who we are as a city," said Leslie Reid, Executive Director. " We're pleased to join Mayor Walsh in this effort to make sure that our residents are safe during this pandemic and the winter that is coming."
"Housing stability for all Bostonians is something the City of Boston strives for," said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing and Director of Neighborhood Development. "Stable housing is necessary for maintaining good health, securing employment, and ensuring that children are able to continue their education. During the COVID epidemic, these needs are more critical than ever. With this pledge, property owners and tenants will work together to ensure that everyone can remain safely and stably housed."
The pledge is one of the tools that the City has developed to assist tenants during the global pandemic. Mayor Walsh also filed the "Housing Stability Notification Act" with the Boston City Council on October 5th. This is an ordinance that would ensure Bostonians at risk of eviction know their rights and have access to the resources available to them. The ordinance requires property owners and constables who are serving a Notice to Quit (the first step in the legal process of an eviction) to provide a document containing information on tenant rights and resources available to them when issuing a Notice to Quit or non-renewal of lease. This multilingual document provides information about City and State rental relief funds, guidance on filing a federal declaration of need to potentially protect against eviction, and a list of services such as legal counsel, dispute mediation, fair payment agreements, and other supports.
This ordinance is part of a larger effort by the City to aid residents who may be at risk of eviction. Mayor Walsh has advocated in support of An Act to Ensure Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings, a bill at the Massachusetts State House, which would provide any low-income tenant facing eviction with a court-appointed attorney for representation. More than 90 percent of renters who faced eviction in Massachusetts last year had to represent themselves in Housing Court, while 70 percent of landlords had a lawyer, according to testimony presented by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
The Rental Relief Fund will be accepting new applications after the eviction moratorium ends, with up to $4,000 in rental assistance available for eligible tenants. The Rental Relief Fund was established in April 2020 to aid residents who lost their income due to COVID-19 and were unable to pay their rent. The City of Boston dedicated $3 million to the first round of the Fund, and then added an additional $5 million in June. So far, the Fund has distributed more than $3 million in aid covering the rent of more than 900 households.
In addition, the City will contract with Greater Boston Legal Services to add additional attorneys to assist tenants facing eviction. The Office of Housing Stability (OHS) has hired an additional housing court navigator to assist tenants who are beginning the eviction process. These housing court navigators assess the tenant's situation and determine which resources and services would be useful to preserve and stabilize their tenancy, which may include linking them to financial assistance, housing search, and advocacy organizations. This broader social services approach supports overwhelmed tenants and helps them to access financial assistance from the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and the Rental Relief Fund. OHS staff will hold multiple weekly virtual clinics for eviction defense following the end of the moratorium.
The City has also taken steps to enhance programs to help homeowners, many of whom are small landlords, to meet their own financial obligations, make critical repairs, and stay in their homes. The Boston Home Center (BHC) has partnered with the City of Boston's Tax/Title division to reach out to more than 8,000 homeowners who are past due in property taxes. This multilingual insert directs homeowners at-risk to the BHC's Foreclosure Prevention and Intervention services.
To ensure that homeowners have access to financial assistance for critical home repairs, Mayor Walsh recently announced that the Seniors Save program is increasing grants from $3,500 to $8,000 for the total replacement of a heating system for Bostonians older than 60 who meet income eligibility requirements. Also, the Lead Safe Program is increasing its loan limit from $8,000 to $10,000 per unit as a three-year deferred forgivable loan, and the triple-decker program has been merged with the Homeworks program so that now any three-unit home can be eligible for up to $30,000 in a deferred forgivable loan.